It has been almost 9 months since I graduated from college. My mind staggers at that number, wondering how time evaporated and the pool of my uncertainty remains. Wasn’t I supposed to have life figured out by now?
A friend once described post-grad life to me as being similar to allergies. It’s not a full-fledged sickness, it just irritates and sniffles its way until you feel fuzzy. Some days you almost don’t know it’s there. Then the wind picks up. And there is no Claritin clear answer to solve it.
Of course there are still valuable lessons in a season such as this. Here are a few I’ve picked up on:
1. 40 hours at one job is a lot
After sixteen years of schooling, most college seniors think 40 hours a week will be a piece of cake. However, college kept us busy with a varied schedule full of multiple classes or tasks each day, so sitting at a desk for more than two hours is not an easy adjustment.
At the very least, we were also thrilled by the concept of going to work, then coming home and leaving it all behind with no more homework to tie us down. But that brings me to my next point…
2. Insurance, repairs, and groceries are the new homework
If you are lucky, you job doesn’t suck all your energy out of you. For many of us though, we haven’t found the dream job yet and by the end of the day it is a chore just to cook dinner. These days if I get one of my to-dos done per day and eat at least one fruit or vegetable I’m satisfied.
Sure I don’t have to write a paper or read several chapters, instead I’m trying to figure out renters insurance and calling the landlord about my freezer that won’t freeze or the mold developing on all the windows. After that comes laundry, and groceries, and maybe an hour to decompress through mindless screen staring. Sure, most of us had to do those things in college too, but free time is not necessarily more frequent in the working world.
3. The guidelines of friendship morph into something new.
For 16 years my friends were people I saw every day in classes or at least on campus. Now my friends are scattered across the country and we have to learn what it looks like to communicate across distances.
Even for those people who keep living with friends or live in relative proximity, your community is now intersected by work and varied responsibilities. There is no guarantee on how long you will be in the same place with those people. Despite the way friendship worked in school, you can still have a best friend that you are lucky to see once a year. Phone calls, skypes, and texting become the norm, reminding you that technology does have wonderful benefits beyond sharing cat pictures across the internet.
4. The future only becomes larger
In the months leading up to graduation, the future in my mind was this bulbous, burgeoning question mark that seemed endless. I dreaded it, lost slept over it, and eventually pretended to be at peace with it. I made a plan for the foreseeable aspects because thankfully I had some milestones to get me through the first six months.
Now that those markers are long behind me, the future looks like Rainbow Road – both beautiful and terrifying and full of curves I am bound to fall off of. There isn’t a winter or summer break at the end of the tunnel. Time becomes more abstract and the calendar devolves into something unrecognizable. Because seriously – when does spring actually start if there is no spring break?
5.Life and work don’t look perfect right away – THIS IS OK.
Despite my confident declarations that I would do any job to pay the bills for now, the reality of that life has left me deflated and disillusioned. I succeeded at getting myself a full-time, salary job but quickly lost myself in a toilet bowl of doubt about whether I could actually do it. On the surface we question our abilities, but at the core the real dilemma is about our purpose—what meaning does my life have in this job? How long will it be until I find some semblance of meaning? How do I get there at all?
For some reason we feel rushed and pressured to have our lives figured out with a neatly planned career path, if not by graduation than at least relatively soon afterwards. In reality, this only happens for .01% of people.
The other day my roommate came home from her nannying job and told me that one of the twins she takes care of had a meltdown after his sister finished her homework before him. He spiraled to a place of “I’m never going to finish” and “I can’t do it.” She comforted him and said “You’ve done this before, it is just addition and subtraction problems. Your sister had different homework, that’s why she finished earlier.” This is what all post-grads need to remember: WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT HOMEWORK. Don’t compare yourself to other people, thinking they got better jobs or have more friends or seem to shower more often. Your homework for this stage is not the same as theirs, and all you need is to return to the basics to do your best. It is just addition and subtraction, figuring things out one step at a time.
Also, here’s a secret I learned from multiple people who are 20 years or more ahead of us: it took them anywhere from 2-15 years to get to a job they actually like, and some are still trying new things! That’s the kind of motivational poster they need in career development offices.
Long story short: post-grad life can be messy and confusing, with a high level of change and a low amount of concrete answers. I’ve stopped aiming for the mirage of perfect and have accepted that my new goal is to collect experiences, good or bad. The hardest part is simply being nice to yourself along the way.